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Sexual assault is a major problem in correctional facilities. Even as recently as March of 2015, the problem was so acute that the National Institute of Corrections released an in-depth report detailing the way that prison rape is often treated almost as a part of the punitive process. The public association of rape as a part of the prison system is damaging on many levels. This includes the fact that inmates who have been assaulted often do not get either medical or psychological support. This leaves inmates in a dangerous position when they return to public life.

Effectively investigating assaults when they happen is key to providing proper support for inmates. Training management plays an essential role in this process, and can help you get staff on board with best practices. These five tips can help you set an effective foundation for better investigations:

1. Treat victims with respect
An inmate who has been sexually assaulted is a victim just like any member of the public. The individual should be listened to with sensitivity and taken seriously, not set aside as a secondary priority. You must be intentional about making victims feel respected if you want to be able to expect them to come forward and speak honestly about their situation.

2. Create a safe environment
Victims are unlikely to come forward unless they feel they will not face retaliation from the party who harmed them in the first place. Effective inmate safety protocols are essential in investigating sexual assault.

Careful investigation is necessary to successfully investigate sexual assault in correctional facilities.
Careful investigation is necessary to successfully investigate sexual assault in correctional facilities.

3. Standardize evidence management
Correctional facilities are constantly maintaining audio and video surveillance and storing files for a prescribed amount of time. The problem is that staff members have some ability to manipulate this evidence unless you standardize how those files are maintained to create a clear chain of custody. This is essential if you want surveillance to protect inmates against sexual assault.

4. Bring in third-party specialists
The staff-inmate relationship in prisons is inherently oppositional. Victims may have a difficult time trusting security officers with a testimony of an assault incident. A third-party specialist, on the other hand, may be better-suited to getting a victim to open up about an incident.

5. Treat rape with equal seriousness regardless of the victim
The cultural perception of rape as something that is tolerated in corrections can lead to victims not seeking help. Changing your culture to handle sexual assault with seriousness is necessary when trying to protect victims.

Effective training and policy management can help you put these tips into action by equipping security staff with the tools the information they need to follow sexual assault investigation best practices.